As Autumn arrives, it's just a small matter of waiting for the trees to explode into their auburn colours, nature’s last roar of the year, before the leaves start to fall.
After the beautiful purple shades on the moorland, it's time for trees to do their thing. Our woodlands really come into their own this month, changing our view of a green landscape into one of a myriad different warm hues. You'll be rewarded with vibrant colours of red, orange, mahogany, mustard and gold, and a multitude of fading greens, as well as impressive fungi clinging to standing and fallen deadwood.
Dalby Forest is at its best in autumn. The blues and greens of pines and spruces being complemented by the golden needles of larch, the bright yellow of ash leaves, the red leaves of wild cherries and the greens, yellows and russet browns of oak. Top locations to enjoy the autumn shades in the Forest include Haygate, Crosscliff, Staindale Lake and Bickley Gate.
Also look out for:
- Fungi galore. On the forest floor the caps, spikes and spheres of fungi put in their annual appearance. Russulas and agarics grow amongst the conifer needles and faded grasses, while yellow spikes of Stag’s horn fungus and the aptly named Candle Snuff sprout from decaying stumps. As leaves rain down and moisture builds up in the soil the fungi begin to fruit. These are the fascinating shapes we see: Shaggy Inkcaps, Stinkhorn, Jelly Ear, Chicken of the Woods, Orange Peel Fungus, Puffballs and Penny Buns.
- Popular spots to hunt for fungi include woodland near Goathland, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Little Beck Wood, and, in the Howardian Hills, Yearsley Moor and Grimston Moor. Both of these have areas of deciduous and coniferous trees, deadwood on the ground and woodland tracks. Remember to keep to footpaths and bridleways when searching for fungi in areas of privately owned woodland.
- If you'd like to find out more, especially which ones are edible, then do get yourself booked on a fungi foray event. Ryenats hold an annual event while Taste the Wild run a number of foraging courses but they are very popular, book up quick! The Yorkshire Arboretum also organise fungi forays too.
- Sloes, ripe now on blackthorn trees. Look out for them in scrubland, woodland and hedgerows on your walks. The extremely bitter purple/blue fruits are superb for making a traditional warming liqueur – sloe gin, but remember to leave some for the birds! Sloes are said to be at their best when picked after the first frosts. Whether you can wait that long is up to you but the fruit should be plump and juicy before it's picked. Sloes form on the second year’s growth so try hedges that were not cut the previous winter.
- Red deer and fallow deer rutting. Deer stags are at the peak of their fitness and are ready to battle antler to antler to gain dominance of a harem of hinds. Lots of dramatic bellowing, posturing and bashing around to intimidate their rivals ensues! Deer parks provide a great chance to see and hear this impressive natural show, but wild deer do roam around the moors too. Herds are known to graze in the clearings at the ancient woodland Ashberry Nature Reserve, near Rievaulx, maintained by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - so a stealthy early morning visit might pay dividends.
Walks of the month
As October is the best month for autumn colour, it has to be a woodland walk or two or three...
The Yorkshire Arboretum in the Howardian Hills, with 6,000 trees and its mix of native and non-native trees is spectacular as the leaves turn rich shades of red, yellow and orange. It's a great place for a wander. Alternatively a walk on the footpaths and bridleways through the woodlands of the Hovingham Estate (pdf) are also stunning.
Back in the National Park, the 3.2 km Ellerburn walk in the prettiest corner of Thornton-le-Dale, follows the beck upstream to the hamlet. The stroll, along the riverside, roads and pavements, takes in a majestic row of orange beech trees and includes the Tea Cosy Tearoom at the halfway point with a lovely garden.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's their advice on what else to look out for this month.
How time flies. it’s nearly October and we are well into migration, the North York Moors coast wildlife airport is full of arrivals and departures! Swifts have gone, swallows have almost all gone but many other birds have just arrived. And so many migration mysteries still remain.
Virtually all birds migrate to some extent, especially when we consider short distances in that definition. A few years ago, a friend was bird ringing in Richard's Flamborough garden in October; he caught and ringed a blue tit whilst trying to catch much rarer species.
The following April he caught the same blue tit, but this time in his own garden in Catwick, an amazing coincidence. So then many questions were posed; was this blue tit born in Flamborough and spent the winter in East Yorkshire before returning to the coast or did it arrive from Europe and then return the following spring after wintering further south? So next time you watch an innocent looking blue tit in your garden, it may be just about to start an amazing journey!
Birds of prey also migrate to our shores from Europe in October. All our small winter species, kestrel, sparrowhawk and merlin have been found to arrive here in autumn, with results from bird ringing recoveries. Many of the kestrel recoveries were of young birds ringed in the nest in Scandinavia, some of these birds even reached Ireland before being found.
Identifying these species can be tricky especially as the view is often brief. You can make it a little easier if you use this rule of thumb; in the great majority of cases a small raptor seen in a garden will be a sparrowhawk. Merlin's hunt over open land, often arable farmland in the winter. Kestrels also prefer open country but can come into gardens especially those on the edge of towns and villages. The merlin is a very dark and small raptor; its hunting technique is all about agility, speed and surprise. Kestrels usually hover when hunting although they do adapt to other techniques. So if you see a small bird of prey in or close to your garden, concentrate on size, hunting technique and habitat.
Little brown jobs or LBJ’s is a phrase often used by birders when faced with difficult small brown birds. Linnet and twite match that definition. Despite their brown plumage, they are full of amazing character and great to look out for on the North York Moors National Park coast in October. Linnets have spent the summer nesting in our thorny hedges and shrubs. By October, they will have joined into flocks often feeding on open fields after the harvest where there is left over grain.
Twite arrive from central Europe in search of food in late autumn and can be found in association with linnets or in flocks of their own. Look out for them on cliff top fields where they can be found feeding on native flower seed such as buckshorn plantain.
The best way to separate these two LBJ’s is to look for the yellow bill (a good winter feature) and white wing feather edges of twite. Linnets have a grey dull bill and grey wing feather edges. Twite are also much darker brown in overall colour than linnets.
October is a great month for fungi. One of the largest to look out for is the giant puffball which can sometimes be found in nutrient rich places such as grassy fields, parks and meadows. This is a good edible fungus especially when cooked fresh before the flesh becomes yellow. Eventually the whole ball turns brown as the spores develop. A splash of rain is all it takes for the spores to be released.
Another very distinctive species to look out for in a similar habitat as the puffball is the shaggy ink cap. These are tall and well named; as they become older they develop a shaggy appearance and emit a black ink like liquid. They are also edible when fresh, before they develop the ink.
Whilst these species are easy to identify, before eating any fungi it’s always best to check with an expert.
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